The FINANCIAL — TEL AVIV. The United States called on Israel to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem, which has become the main obstacle to reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestine authorities, Haaretz newspaper said March 15.
Palestinian authorities recently agreed to hold indirect talks with Israel mediated by the United States after a 15-month break. At the same time the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, which has prompted strains in U.S.-Israeli relations.
Haaretz said that the current crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations was the most serious with the Americans since the confrontation between then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Yitzhak Rabin in 1975 over the U.S. demand for a partial withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the announcement a "deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship…and had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process."
The United States has demanded Israel take steps to restore confidence in bilateral relations and permit the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Haaretz said the United States expects Israel to investigate the process that led to the announcement of construction plans during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit, and to reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee of approving the construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.
The U.S. also suggested Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, ease restrictions on the Gaza Strip, remove further roadblocks in the West Bank, and called for Israeli defense forces to withdraw from other areas in the West Bank.
The announcement of new construction plans drew cutting criticism from the United States and many other countries and international bodies including the UN, the European Union and Russia, who comprise the Quartet of international mediators in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The Quartet will convene in Moscow on March 19.
Last week, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has called on Israel to abandon plans to build new settlements in the West Bank.
Palestine said it might unilaterally declare statehood if resumed peace talks with Israel failed.
Settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, has been the main obstacle to reviving peace talks, stalled since an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
Under the internationally agreed roadmap for Middle East peace, Israel is obliged to freeze all settlement construction activity, and remove unauthorized outposts built since 2001 from the Palestinian territories.